A determined, Draconian campaign of executions and long prison terms or exile has made the streets of Peking, Shanghai, and other large cities much safer than before, according to the Ministry of Public Security.
Crimes in Peking and Shanghai during September, October, and November of last year declined by nearly half compared to the same period the previous year, a ministry spokesman told the official Xinhua news agency. A roundup of criminals - many of them jobless youth - reached its height during these months.
The smart new khaki uniforms of police directing traffic on Changan Boulevard and other main streets is one sign of the heightened prestige of public security personnel. The spokesman said the ministry's campaign had enthusiastic public support, and indeed many citizens, particularly women, say they feel much safer today riding buses or walking along ill-lit alleys than they did before the crackdown started last summer.
But some citizens are aghast at the number of executions, which on a nationwide basis ran into thousands. On a fall trip through the province of Shanxi, this correspondent saw posters announcing executions in nearly every town and village passed through.
The Chinese legal system provides for appeals and reviews, but during the campaign the whole procedure took place with frightening speed. The list of crimes subject to capital punishment was lengthened by action of the National People's Congress, China's legislature.
This correspondent was told of at least one case in which a prisoner, appealing a long prison term at the time the law was amended, had his appeal rejected and his sentence changed to execution because of the new law. If only he had not appealed, his parents are said to have lamented.
Relatives of prominent Chinese were not spared. One case given considerable publicity in internal documents concerned a grandson of the late Marshal Zhu De (Chu Teh), co-founder with Mao Tse-tung of the People's Liberation Army. This young man allegedly led a gang in Tianjin which robbed and raped at will until the crackdown.
The public security authorities of the city of Tianjin asked Madame Kang Keqing, widow of the marshal and president of the All China Women's Federation, how the case should be disposed of.
Madame Kang, unlike some other high cadres, is said to have refused to intervene, saying that if any relative of hers had committed crimes he should be punished according to the law. The young man was executed.
Today, according to the ministry spokesman, public order and social conduct have taken a turn for the better, especially at railway stations, ports, recreation centers, and markets.
Many criminals not executed were sent off to labor camps in remote provinces. Recidivists, the ministry spokesman said, had had their urban residence registrations cancelled and had been sent to remote areas for reeducation, ''so as to prevent them from continuing to jeopardize public order.''